Researchers investigate genetics of suicide

September 8, 2017
Average risk of suicide by state. Credit: CDC Data and Statistics Fatal Injury Report 2015 and University of Utah Health

Even today, suicide is a taboo topic often discussed in whispers and swept to the shadows of society, despite it being the leading cause of death among youth in Utah and the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. Researchers at the University of Utah Health are collaborating with Janssen Research & Development to shed light on these understudied and tragic deaths. The research will attempt to identify genetic variations associated with an increased risk for suicide.

This builds on the Utah Suicide Genetics Project, initiated by Hilary Coon, Ph.D., research professor in Psychiatry and principal investigator from U of U Health. Qingqin Li, PhD, Scientific Director and Business Technology Leader, Janssen, serves as co-principal investigator of this collaboration. The researchers will search for genetic clues within very large extended families that have unusually high rates of .

"We are excited about this partnership," said Coon. "Janssen has the resources needed to build upon our scientific efforts with the potential of creating new therapies benefiting those suffering from mental illness."

The Utah Department of Health Office of the Medical Examiner and the University of Utah has implemented numerous measures to protect the identities of and their living relatives, creating a clean data set without names, date of birth, or other individual identifiers.

"The University of Utah is uniquely positioned to study the genetics of suicidality," said Will Dere, MD, Executive Director of the Program in Personalized Health and Co-Director of the Utah Center for Clinical and Translational Science. "We have a significant collection of samples from people who have died by suicide, along with the extensive information from the Utah Population Database."

"Suicidal behavior is thought to be a heritable trait and one that has not been sufficiently studied," said Husseini K. Manji, MD, Global Head, Neuroscience, Janssen. "We look forward to gaining new insights from this collaboration to better understand the intricate relationship between and psychiatric conditions."

Janssen will collaborate with the U to characterize DNA from people who died by suicide. The team will jointly mine the genetic and phenotypic data to pinpoint genetic markers for suicide, one aspect of risk in this complex problem.

September is national suicide prevention month, a time to reflect on the more than 44,000 deaths from suicide in the United States annually.

While mental illness and suicide are often intertwined, most people who struggle with do not die by suicide, which suggests unique suicide genetic risk factors. The identification of the genetic factors may help predict subsets of individuals who are at risk and could inform new strategies for preventing the worst from happening.

The collaboration will enable the researchers to prioritize gene searches to identify important pathways for which medications may already be available, or where new medications may be eventually developed through the Janssen collaboration. Coon believes this approach may open opportunities to try existing or new medications in clinical trials that could help people at greater risk for suicide or to define groups of individuals at specific genetic risk for particular environmental exposures.

"We are excited to have a partner who offers new opportunities for research collaboration," Coon said. "We believe this work may help us identify high-risk groups for better, more targeted therapies and interventions to reduce the incidence of suicide." All financial support from the Janssen collaboration to the U will go to fund continued research on and to suicide prevention efforts.

Explore further: Young people with chronic illness more likely to attempt suicide

Related Stories

Young people with chronic illness more likely to attempt suicide

August 17, 2017
Young people between the ages of 15 and 30 living with a chronic illness are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their healthy peers, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo.

Older adults may need better follow-up after ER screenings for suicide

August 9, 2017
According to the World Health Organization, suicide rates for men over the age of 70 are higher than in any other group of people. In 2015, almost 8,000 older adults committed suicide in the U.S., and the proportion of suicides ...

Broader firearm restrictions needed to prevent suicide deaths

July 4, 2017
Limiting firearm access only for persons with a mental health condition or those who previously attempted suicide likely is not enough to reduce suicide deaths. The brief research report is published in Annals of Internal ...

Suicide and genetics: a complicated association

April 22, 2017
Dear Mayo Clinic: Why does it seem that suicide tends to run in families? Does it have anything to do with genetics?

Risk of suicide attempts in army units with history of suicide attempts

July 26, 2017
Does a previous suicide attempt in a soldier's U.S. Army unit increase the risk of other suicide attempts?

Lingering risk of suicide after discharge from psychiatric facilities

May 31, 2017
A study that synthesized more than 50 years of research into suicide rates for patients after discharge from psychiatric facilities suggests the immediate period after discharge was a time of marked risk and that the risk ...

Recommended for you

New approach to studying chromosomes' centers may reveal link to Down syndrome and more

November 20, 2017
Some scientists call it the "final frontier" of our DNA—even though it lies at the center of every X-shaped chromosome in nearly every one of our cells.

Genome editing enhances T-cells for cancer immunotherapy

November 20, 2017
Researchers at Cardiff University have found a way to boost the cancer-destroying ability of the immune system's T-cells, offering new hope in the fight against a wide range of cancers.

A math concept from the engineering world points to a way of making massive transcriptome studies more efficient

November 17, 2017
To most people, data compression refers to shrinking existing data—say from a song or picture's raw digital recording—by removing some data, but not so much as to render it unrecognizable (think MP3 or JPEG files). Now, ...

Genetic mutation in extended Amish family in Indiana protects against aging and increases longevity (Update)

November 15, 2017
The first genetic mutation that appears to protect against multiple aspects of biological aging in humans has been discovered in an extended family of Old Order Amish living in the vicinity of Berne, Indiana, report Northwestern ...

US scientists try first gene editing in the body

November 15, 2017
Scientists for the first time have tried editing a gene inside the body in a bold attempt to permanently change a person's DNA to try to cure a disease.

Genetic variant prompts cells to store fat, fueling obesity

November 13, 2017
Obesity is often attributed to a simple equation: People are eating too much and exercising too little. But evidence is growing that at least some of the weight gain that plagues modern humans is predetermined. New research ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.